Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 8, 2019

Mabu Mabu Bush Foods: celebrating NAIDOC Week at Beaumaris Library

Libraries, as we know, are great places for community events, and this week for #NAIDOC Week the Bayside Library service offered a cooking demonstration using bush food ingredients  Our presenter was Nornie Bero from the island of Mer (a.k.a. Murray Island) in the Torres Strait.

Photo credit: Mabu Mabu Facebook page

Nornie is a chef trained in London and Melbourne, and she runs her own food stall at the South Melbourne market.  It’s called Mabu Mabu, which is a saying in the Torres Strait that means ‘help yourself’:  it’s how they welcome people to a feast or dinner and is always followed by a joyous celebration of food and family.  But although (yay!) there is soon going to be a restaurant in Yarraville, Nornie’s real mission is to spread the word that Australia’s native bush foods are delicious and their use should be mainstream.  After all, she says, in multicultural Australia we have taken readily to all kinds of cuisine, why not our own?

Indeed. See, for instance, these suggestions from SBS for Nine Delicious Ways to add Bush food to your Breakfast.

Nornie acknowledges that at the moment, problems of supply and demand — and the unfortunate marketing of bush foods as ‘superfoods’ — mean that bush foods are often expensive.  But this dynamic young Indigenous woman has forged her own solution to that: she is partnering with Bunnings to help promote native plants that you can grow at home and add to your dinner.  They are easy to grow, and they should be cheap.  Nornie says that her focus is about everyday cooking with healthy food.  And as the interest in bush foods grows, the price will drop.

(That’s not to say that the book Australian Bush Superfoods* is useless.  Ignore the hype about ‘superfoods’: the book is excellent because it features each plant on its own page with a full colour illustration and suggestions for its use.)

Tasty greens

The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating, so we began the session by tasting a selection of ingredients.  We tasted Karkalla a.k.a. pigface which is a succulent alternative to cucumber, is beaut in salads and stirfries and can be pickled.  There are other succulents such as Samphire, Arageti and Iceberg but although they are mostly in season all year round, their timing is bad: July is when they’re not in season! (BTW I am not sure about the spelling of some of these ingredients, I welcome corrections). Other greens include Warrigal Greens i.e. Australian spinach, but it’s better than spinach because it doesn’t have a lot of water content and it holds itself more — so it’s good for pasta.  Sea parsley has more flavour than regular parsley, which seems to be becoming more insipid in flavour each season.

We then moved on to fruits, tasting Passion berries, Muntries (emu apples, so called because the emus munch them), tart desert limes for making marmalade, and Rosella i.e. hibiscus, which with the addition of some extra sugar is delicious.   (Which you will already know if you have tried Wild Hibiscus in your champagne cocktails).  Hibiscus is also good for sweet chutneys, of the type you see on cheese platters. Some of these fruits are quite tart to start with but mellow on the tongue, and it was great to see some young kids who already had adventurous palates and were happily tasting and enjoying the experience along with everyone else.


Then Nornie introduced spices, one of which I use often.  The Native Pepperberry is the star ingredient in MasterChef contestant Matthew Hopcraft’s beef and pepperberry pie.  (The recipe is in Food to Feed the Family (see here), and it is to die for.  For no other pie will your friends drop what they were doing to come round and have a meat pie for dinner!) But what I didn’t know is that there are two types of pepperberries so I have some more culinary exploring to do.

Well, it turns out that Saltbush Dried is the Black Man’s oregano, and is good with potatoes, yams. polenta and pasta, while Lemon Myrtle leaves are great for teas, desserts, curry pastes and stews.  There’s also a Desert Herb blend like an Italian herb mix which is apparently great in dukkah, and then there’s wattleseed.

Wattleseed has a nutty flavour, like hazelnuts, and can be ground down and used in scones and muffins.  It was easy to try it at home because I already had some but hadn’t found the right way to use it. As it happens I had just made some fresh yoghurt and ricotta, so I had plenty of leftover whey, and I had already planned to try an American muffin recipe from a company called King Arthur, see my recipe below which has metric measures, and and the wattleseed.  The muffins are scrumptious, and of course insanely healthy because of the low-fat whey.

Ingredients for canneloni

Possibly also insanely healthy were the cannelloni that Nornie made for us to try.  Using a food processor she blended ricotta cheese, dragon fruit, icing sugar and ground Strawberry gum flavouring (i.e. from a strawberry gum tree, not chewing gum flavour!)  With the help of a couple of children in the audience, she piped the mix into ready-made cannelloni shells and the audience devoured the lot in no time.

As a teacher, I was impressed by the way Nornie managed the food hygiene side of things.  The kids, of course, had not washed their hands.  Without a word on that subject, she arranged their hands so that they only held the plastic piping bag, and she held the cannelloni shells.  Tactful, without breaking the rules for food that we were all going to eat. But I was also impressed by Nornie’s friendly and engaging style: she is passionate about this cause, but she is good fun, cracking all kinds of jokes while imparting the message.  SBS Food, this amazing Indigenous woman deserves her own cooking show!

Many, many thanks to the staff at Beaumaris library for a most informative and entertaining session!

Recipe for Wattleseed whey muffins (I can’t get WP to upload it as a doc, sorry. )

Wattleseed whey muffins

  • 200g plain flour (you may need to add a couple of tbsp more if the mix turns out to be too runny)
  • 100g sugar (I use caster, but ordinary is fine too)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp wattleseed ground (or cinnamon or nutmeg)
  • 225g mixed fruit and/or nuts (any kind, I used raisins and sultanas for this batch;
  • ¼ cup crushed nuts (extra) (walnuts, hazelnuts, whatever is open in the pantry)
  • 50g vegetable oil, optional, for moistness (I used walnut oil because I had some open)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 230g whey (1 ¼ cups) or half and half milk and water if you haven’t got whey.


  1. Preheat the oven to 215°.  Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin pan.
  2. Blend the dry ingredients.
  3. Mix in the fruit and/or nuts.
  4. Combine wet and dry ingredients.  Do not overmix.
  5. Fill each cup in the muffin pan to 2/3 full.
  6. Bake 15-18 minutes.
  7. Store well-wrapped for up to 3 days at room temperature of up to a month in the freezer.

*Australian Bush Superfoods
by Lily Alice and Thomas O’Quinn
Published by Explore Australia
ISBN: 9781741175400

Photo credit: Mabu Mabu Facebook page


  1. Love this post! What an excellent event to have at the library.


    • It was great:) My, how libraries have changed, eh?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Also shows the differences between libraries (I love my library but it is not particularly innovative).


  2. Have emailed this to Millie and expect to be experimented on sooner rather than later.


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